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Customer Review

72 of 77 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars great historical book about the outbreak of polio and its eradication in the US, March 4, 2008
This review is from: Polio: An American Story (Paperback)
The Foundation for Infantile Paralysis and their March of Dimes campaign was started by FDR and managed by his law firm colleague Basil O'Connor. O'Connor continued the movement after Roosevelt's death in 1945 and financed the reseearch into a vaccine. The competition between Salk and Sabin was very interesting and the large number of cases that hit in the early 1950s was the impetous for Salk's accelerated assault on the disease using the dead form of the virus. Sabin believed in a live virus and there were many debates about how to proceed woth scientific research and when to announce findings. Also the ethical issues as to when and how to do vaccine experiments on humans was a major point of contention.

The book is extremely well-researched by Oshinsky and covers the facts, the research and the myths that surrounded the virus along with the fears that hit and the damage that was caused by this disease when it would flare up in the hot summers. All the major contributors are discussed and some biographical backgroubd is given for the key players.

In the summer of 1953 at age six I contracted a mild case of the disease. I knew nothing about it, felt so sick when it first struck that I thought I was going to die. I can relate well to the suffering described. My family was lucky as among the three children I was the only one to get it. I was placed in St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson Long Island, a Catholic hospital that specialized in treating polio and I recovered after 3 months of treatment with only a weakening of my stomach muscles.

The book is detailed and covers how people reacted to the perceived epidemic. It was interesting to me that 1952 was the year that polio cases hit their peak in the US and 1954 was the year of the Salk vaccine trial. My illness occurred in 1953 while the disease was still rampant but just before the vaccine came out.

I think we owe a great debt to Jonas Salk and he was certainly deserving of a Nobel Prize in medicine. It is a mystery to me that the Nobel committee did not select him for the award! Perhaps it is as the author suggest, that the feuding between Salk and Sabin prevented both from being elected although they were undoubtably nominated. Some may argue that a few bad batches of the Salk vaccine due to the rapid mass manufacturing by the pharmaceutical company Cutter caused illness and death that would not have occurred if it was done more careful quality control. But I think a greater good was served by getting a viable vaccine out to prevent more children from getting the disease. It is truly amazing how fast polio was eradicated in the US just after the initial experiment with the Salk Vaccine. The vaccine was successful in the 1954 clinical experiment and there was an urgency to get children innoculated before the next summer's polio season. The rush was due to poor planning by the Federal Government that left the production of the vaccine for the first year solely up to the licensed companies. This problem did not occur in Canada and was not something that Jonas Salk could be blamed for. Also no problems occurred with the batches produced by the other manufacturers. Saban's vaccine came out in 1960 after experimentation proved very successful in the Soviet Union. I don't beleive that Sabin would have produced his vaccine as quickly or tested it on large populations if Salk hadn't cleared the way first with his 1954 trial.

It was clear that iin the end Salk was proven to be right about the lilled virus vaccine being safer and when perfected it was as safe and effective as the Sabin vaccine. However because of the Cutter fiasco confidence in the Salk vaccine was shaken and Sabin's came around in time to be mass delivered and easier to take. However, by the 1980s when Polio had nearly been eradicated in the US thanks to the Sabin vaccine, practically all the new cases were atributable to the vaccine. At this point the new Salk vaccine was safer and there was a good case for switching to it. But action was only taken by the CDC around 2000 when they moved to a combination of two Salk injections followed by two oral vaccines.

This book certainly deserved the Pulitzer Prize that it was awarded!
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Mar 4, 2008 2:30:01 PM PST
[Deleted by the author on Mar 26, 2008 8:41:01 PM PDT]

Posted on Mar 8, 2008 12:48:54 PM PST
Hi Michael and Deborah,
The two of you work together so well as a team! This review was really interesting and surprised me after all the statistics reviews. More of this kind of reveiw!!!

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 26, 2008 7:35:32 PM PDT
Judy: Phil Good is a colleague and friend of mine. But he is a bit of a character and a very independent and liberal thinker. However, his review of this book really upset me because he doesn't have his facts straight and I feel that I have a personal attachment and admiration for what Jonas Salk and the other medical researchers did to wipe out polio especially since I was a polio survivor and recoverer.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 20, 2015 11:52:55 AM PDT
Against considerable opposition from the March of Dimes Foundation, which supported the relatively effective killed vaccine, Sabin prevailed on the Public Health Service to license his three strains of vaccine. While the PHS stalled, the USSR sent millions of doses of the oral vaccine to places with polio epidemics, such as Japan, and reaped the humanitarian benefit. Indeed, it was not clear to many that the vaccine was an American one, financed by U.S. dollars, but not available to ordinary Americans.

You are one of the very few statisticians of your generation to emphasize anecdotal evidence,
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